The Quiet Picture

I was in the Pitti Palace. Great swarms of us flowing through the great rooms, gorged on renaissance Holy Families, saints, and Madonnas. Huge groups barked at in Russian, world famous masterpieces stacked one above another. The senses dulled, I took refuge upstairs, here in the rooms devoted to nineteenth century Florentine art. In peace, the rooms empty, a few drift bored past monumental Risorgimento battles.

And then, in one quiet corner, I stopped. Here by Odoardo Borrani (1833-1905) was his Interno di Oratorio. It is painted in exquisite detail: the light plays on the polished wood of the Oratory, the walls are white and vaulted. Delicate prints are on the walls. And kneeling before was a Carthusian or Carmelite monk. His face is hidden under his hood. He is praying.

What is he saying? We do not know – it does not matter. We can feel his concentration, the intensity of his thought. This unknown picture by a forgotten artist in an unknown corner does more for me than all the Raphaels and Titians and Tintorettos.

It speaks of a certain presence, of a determination by an ordinary unknown man to see the divine. And now, when I look at it again, I see myself, ghostlike, reflected in the glass of the picture, and I line up my camera. I am barely there, but there all the same. As we all are, if we wished it.